Immediately after a long-simmering battle within the South Caucasus burst into open warfare late final month, Turkey got here to assistance from its Turkic allies in Azerbaijan. It has equipped arms and, allegedly, fighters transferred from Syria, though that has been denied in Ankara.
Unlike most outdoors powers that referred to as for a right away ceasefire, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advised Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to combat on.
The Caucasus is barely the newest enterprise for a extra muscular Turkey, whose army engagements have stretched from Syria throughout the Mediterranean.
Where has Turkey change into concerned?
In the previous couple of years, Turkey has:
- launched three army incursions into Syria
- despatched army provides and fighters to Libya
- deployed its navy to the Eastern Mediterranean to say its claims within the area
- expanded its army operations in opposition to Kurdish PKK rebels in northern Iraq
- despatched army reinforcements to Syria’s final rebel-held province of Idlib
- just lately threatened a brand new army operation in northern Syria to confront “terrorist armed groups”.
Turkey additionally has a army presence in Qatar, Somalia and Afghanistan and maintains peacekeeping troops within the Balkans. Its international army footprint is essentially the most expansive for the reason that days of the Ottoman Empire.
What is behind Turkey’s new overseas coverage?
Turkey’s reliance on exhausting energy to safe its pursuits is the cornerstone of its new overseas coverage doctrine, within the making since 2015.
The new doctrine is deeply suspicious of multilateralism and urges Turkey to behave unilaterally when vital.
It is anti-Western. It believes that the West is in decline and Turkey ought to domesticate nearer ties to international locations comparable to Russia and China.
It is anti-imperialist. It challenges the Western-dominated World War Two order and requires an overhaul of worldwide establishments such because the United Nations, to provide voice to nations apart from the Western international locations.
The new overseas coverage doctrine views Turkey as a rustic surrounded by hostile actors and deserted by its Western allies.
Therefore, it urges Turkey to pursue a proactive overseas coverage that rests on using pre-emptive army energy outdoors its borders.
This is a far cry from Turkey’s earlier give attention to diplomacy, commerce and cultural engagement in its relations with different nations. The change is a perform of a number of home and worldwide developments.
Turkey’s new doctrine started to take form in 2015, when the ruling AKP misplaced its parliamentary majority for the primary time in over a decade as a result of rise of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
To regain the ruling celebration’s majority, Mr Erdogan fashioned an alliance with nationalists each on the fitting and left.
They backed him when he resumed the combat in opposition to the Kurdish rebels.
How focus turned to Kurds
Turkey’s battle with the PKK – Kurdistan Workers’ Party – needed to a big extent stopped after the group’s imprisoned chief, Abdullah Ocalan, referred to as for a ceasefire with the Turkish state in 2013.
Despite their ideological variations, each the far-right nationalist MHP and neo-nationalists on the left assist a heavy-handed strategy to the Kurdish drawback. They additionally prioritise nationwide safety at dwelling and overseas and espouse sturdy anti-Western views.
With their assist, Mr Erdogan additionally switched the nation’s parliamentary system to a presidential one granting him sweeping powers.
This alliance with the nationalists and consolidation of his energy grew to become the important thing driving issue behind Turkey’s unilateralist, militaristic and assertive overseas coverage.
The failed 2016 coup performed a key position on this course of.
How coup modified the narrative
According to President Erdogan, the botched coup was orchestrated by former ally Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric in self-exile in Pennsylvania, and it did a number of issues to pave the way in which for Turkey’s militaristic overseas coverage.
It strengthened Mr Erdogan’s alliance with the nationalists.
His sweeping purge of civil servants suspected of getting hyperlinks to the Gulen motion led to some 60,000 folks being fired, jailed or suspended from the armed forces and judiciary, and another state establishments.
The void left by the purges was crammed with Erdogan loyalists and nationalist supporters.
The failed coup additionally strengthened the nationalist coalition’s narrative that Turkey was besieged by home and overseas enemies and that the West was a part of the issue. That justified unilateral motion, supported by pre-emptive deployment of exhausting energy past Turkey’s borders.
How strategy modified in Syria
The Assad regime’s resolution to provide a free hand to Syria’s Kurds within the north led to an autonomous Kurdish zone alongside Turkey’s border and in 2014 the US determined to airdrop weapons to the Kurdish militants, thought of to be a terrorist organisation by Turkey. This all fed the narrative that Turkey needed to act alone and deploy army forces to guard its borders.
The failed coup additionally paved the way in which for consolidation of energy in Mr Erdogan’s palms.
Through purges he hollowed out establishments, sidelined key actors in overseas policymaking such because the overseas ministry, and emasculated the army, which had put a brake on his earlier calls to launch army operations in neighbouring international locations.
Before the coup try, he had signalled his intention to launch a army operation into Syria to stem the “terrorist threat” emanating from the Kurdish militias there. But Turkey’s army, which had historically been very cautious about troop deployment outdoors Turkey’s borders, was opposed.
A couple of months after the coup try, President Erdogan acquired his want. Turkey launched its first army operation into Syria to curb the affect of the Kurds within the north in 2016 and two extra incursions after that.
The transfer was applauded by the president’s nationalist allies, who worry an impartial Kurdish state constructed with US assist alongside its border. To curb Kurdish affect and counterbalance the US presence in Syria he labored with Russia.
How Turkey switched focus to Libya and E Mediterranean
Libya grew to become one other theatre for hard-power ways.
In January, Turkey stepped up army assist to Libya’s UN-backed authorities of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, to cease an offensive by forces allied with Gen Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey’s main objective in Libya was to safe the Serraj authorities’s assist in a matter vital to Mr Erdogan’s nationalist allies: the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey has been at loggerheads with Greece and Cyprus over power drilling rights off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus and maritime boundaries within the space.
Ankara signed an settlement on maritime boundaries with Mr Serraj in November in return for army assist to the Tripoli authorities.
Mr Erdogan’s purpose was to redraw maritime borders within the Eastern Mediterranean which, in his opinion, supplied disproportionate benefits to Turkey’s arch-enemies – Greece and the Republic of Cyprus.
Meanwhile, Turkey despatched warships to escort its drilling ships within the Eastern Mediterranean, risking a army confrontation with its Nato accomplice Greece.
Has it been a hit?
Turkey’s assertive coverage in Syria, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean has not yielded the outcomes that President Erdogan’s ruling coalition hoped for.
Turkey couldn’t totally clear Kurdish militia forces from its border with Syria. Neither Ankara’s maritime settlement with Libya nor its actions within the Eastern Mediterranean have modified the anti-Turkey established order within the area.
On the opposite, Turkey’s army involvement in these conflicts hardened anti-Erdogan sentiment within the West and unified a various group of actors of their resolve to oppose Turkish unilateralism, finally forcing Turkey’s chief to again down.
An analogous destiny awaits Turkey’s involvement within the Nagorno-Karabakh battle, which is already seeing the emergence of a extra forceful Russian response and a Russian-Western entrance in opposition to Turkey’s assist for Azerbaijan.
But Mr Erdogan’s nationalist allies need him to combat on. A distinguished neo-nationalist, Retired Rear-Admiral Cihat Yayci, argued that Greece wished to invade western Turkey and urged Mr Erdogan to by no means sit down with Athens to barter.
And the president has little possibility however to take heed to him. As he loses floor in opinion polls, the nationalist sway over his home and overseas insurance policies solely will increase.
Gonul Tol is Director of the Center for Turkish Studies on the Middle East Institute in Washington DC